The UM Vice-Chancellor, Datuk Professor Dr Hashim Yaakob was mulling the idea of opening up to 5% of first degree program i.e. undergraduate spaces to foreigners. On the other hand, the Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Shafie Salleh suggested at recruitment of more foreigners at the post-graduate level to "give 'greater focus' to the 'internationalisation' of UM as a strategy to promote its international reputation".
Well, it has been confirmed now by the Minister himself, as reported in the Star today, that Malaysian public universities will be opened to foreigners, with 5% of undergraduate places in critical courses being allocated to them.
Kian Ming gave his opinions on why this move is not favourable in Part I of his post. I am in total agreement with his opinions. I would like to add that the actions by the Ministry of Higher Education and the universities smacks of a poorly thought knee-jerk reaction to the dramatic decline in UM and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in the THES world university rankings. Furthermore, the reasons or rather, excuses provided by Datuk Shafie Salleh are just unconvincingly mind-boggling.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Dr Shafie Mohd Salleh described the move as a social obligation to nations with which Malaysia had exploration rights, especially for petroleum.Huh? How the hell did we, the tax payers, end up with a "social obligation" to nations with which Petronas had exploration rights? Since it's Petronas, a private company, has the rights, Petronas should be footing the bill for the "social obligations". Petronas could very well sponsor these countries' students to study in Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) or one of the other local private universities e.g., Multimedia University (MMU), University Tun Abdul Razak (UNITAR), Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN) etc.
The Minister was rightly questioned by the Star journalist if the "move would be welcomed", given the fact that public universities could not accomodate all the top students for popular courses. His answer raised more questions - "That's why we are expanding". Huh?!
The Government has allocated RM131mil to ensure adequate places are available to the foreigners and to accommodate an increased intake of Malaysian students into these critical courses at local universities.What makes me seriously believe that the main motives behind the above move is to "improve" the local universities' placement in the THES world rankings table, is when the Minister also added that "as a short-term measure, the Government would be beefing up the number of academics by hiring more foreign lecturers with PhDs." This is apparently becuase of the need to raise the number of lecturers in the local universities to 70% from the current 29.7% by 2010, which he described as a "tall order".
Hence by increasing the foreign students and faculty intake, the Ministry is hoping that the corresponding ranking points which constitutes 10% of the overall scores, will be increased accordingly. It appears that our Ministry and university officials are now blinded by accute myopia in the need to feel better through a better ranking, however artificial it may be.
While it was reported that the Cabinet "has approved" the above, I hope it's one of those all-to-frequent supposed "misquotes", I'd like to highlight the following to the Ministry of Higher Education.
- By setting a target of 5% international students in the local public universities (for critical courses) will not significantly change the rankings of say, Universiti Malaya. As a comparison based on the current year table, Dartmouth College which has a international student population of 5.9% achieved 16/100 score, University of California, Berkeley with an estimated 5.2% achieved 13/100 and Georgetown University with under 5% achieved 9/100.
Assuming Universiti Malaya manages to achieve a score of 12 which is 5 more than the current score of 7, the overall score for UM will only be increased by 0.5, and the rankings moved from 169th to 165th! It will be further unlikely that any increase in the international faculty will raise UM's position above 150th!
Hence by making up poorly thought through measures such as increasing foreign student intake will not only have certain negative implications to the local universities, it will also not achieve the objectives of improving the local university rankings significantly!
- I will repeat here once again, a quote cum warning from Associate Professor Azmi Shahrom, who is the Deputy Dean of the Law Faculty at UM highlighted in an earlier post.
Artificially enticing foreign students and lecturers will simply not work and in the long run will be disastrous for the institution. Artificial means would include lowering the standards so as to take in any Tom, Dick and Harry to study or work here; begging foreign universities to have student exchange programmes with us; or by paying huge amounts of money just to have foreign professors lend their name to our staff lists with little or no actual responsibility.
- If we are ever going to increase our intake of foreign students for our local undergraduate degree programmes, we should open it to all foreign candidates and select only the top students for the courses. This may have a beneficial effect on our local students being exposed to potentially more competitive and advanced students.
However, if we are opening up our local public universities due to "social obligations", it will typically mean that we are depriving precious local resources to local students to invite, in all likelihood (with all due respect), students from Sudan, who may not meet even the basic entry requirements for our courses!
Instead of attracting foreign talent as the universities in Singapore are so adept in doing, we are giving handouts (which we can barely afford) to individuals who will not be able to contribute to Malaysia and Malaysians.
- If we are really that short of Ph.D candidates for the positions of lecturers in our local universities, then why are we "retiring" internationally recognised academics such as Professor P. Ramasamy at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)? Why scour the world for academics when there are those in the country willing to serve but not given the opportunity to do so?
Why is the Ministry of Higher Education suddenly so hasty in its attempt to internationalise the local public universities? Is it so that UM will be able to print new banners and buntings to proclaim an improvement of 10 spots to 159th in the world rankings table next year? Fikirlah sikit, Datuk. Don't just shoot from the hip.